A museum showcasing black heritage from the dawn of time to the modern era was inaugurated in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Thursday, as demands by African countries for the restitution of artwork by their former colonial masters gain traction.
Senegalese President Macky Sall cut the ceremonial ribbon at the ceremony attended by Chinese Culture Minister Luo Shugang, whose country financed the project to the tune of 30 million euros ($34 million).
“Today rekindles in us the precursors of pan-Africanism and African identity,” Sall said.
Spread over 14,000 square metres (150,000 square feet), the Museum of Black Civilisation has a capacity to house 18,000 pieces, its director Hamady Bocoum said.
Such a museum was the dream of Senegal’s first president Leopold Sedar Senghor, among the drivers of the Negritude literary movement born in the 1960s.
It is among several new — or overhauled — museums springing up around Africa that bolster growing demands for the restitution of artworks spirited out of the continent since colonial times.
The opening came a fortnight after France announced it would return 26 cultural artefacts to Benin. It was a first gesture acting on the findings of a study commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron on repatriating African treasures held by French museums.
Senegal was quick to call for the restitution of some 10,000 pieces of Senegalese art from France.
Ivory Coast followed suit the next day, asking for the return of around 100 works of art.
In a reflection of the museum’s centuries-wide breadth, Thursday’s ceremony was followed by a show featuring traditional music and dance as well as rap and slam performances.
The hundreds of guests also heard homages to giants of black civilisation including American civil rights hero Martin Luther King and Burkinabe revolutionary Thomas Sankara.
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